FTC orders 1-800 Contacts to end search restriction deals with rivals

WASHINGTON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The Federal Trade Commission has ordered online contact lens seller 1-800 Contacts to end all agreements with rivals that made it more difficult for price-conscious consumers to comparison shop, the agency said on Wednesday.

The agency agreed with an internal FTC judge’s ruling in October 2017 that 1-800 Contacts had improperly hammered out deals with rivals that restricted search advertising.

The FTC had accused the company in August 2016 of reaching agreements with 14 other sellers that required them to refrain from advertising to consumers who had searched online for 1-800 Contacts. In exchange, 1-800 Contacts agreed to not advertise to individuals who searched for the names of rivals.

The FTC ordered 1-800 Contacts to stop “enforcing the unlawful provisions in its existing agreements and from entering into similar agreements in the future” in an opinion that was authored by Chairman Joseph Simons, a Republican.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has said it had sought to prevent rivals from using its name as a trigger for search advertising as a way to protect its trademark.

It has about 50 percent of the market for internet sales of contact lenses, according to the FTC complaint filed in the case. AEA Investors LP is an investor in the company. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)